When you get a cut, blood clotting is your body’s healthy response to stem the bleeding and begin to close the wound so it can heal. But too much of a good thing can cause problems if it happens inside the body and obstructs blood flow through healthy blood vessels. Depending on where the clot (or “thrombus”) occurs and ends up–they can travel in your blood vessels– it can cause serious problems that require medical attention, including stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism (clot in the lungs).
Unhealthy clotting can be caused or exacerbated by a number of factors, so it’s worth being aware of danger signs if you take certain medications (like oral contraceptives, hormone therapy drugs and some breast cancer medications), have a family history of blood clots or heart problems, smoke, , are pregnant, obese, have high cholesterol or have recently had surgery.
Causes for concern
Here are some red flags that could indicate a problem. You should seek medical assistance if you have swelling, redness, numbness or pain in an arm or leg, or you:
- feel short of breath;
- experience chest pain for more than a few minutes;
- have pain that extends into your arm, back, shoulder or jaw;
- have sudden severe lightheadedness
- have numbness in your face, arm, or leg
- have sudden trouble speaking or understanding others
- have sudden trouble seeing (e.g., blurred or double vision)
- have sudden weakness in an arm or a leg
Your doctor will need to consider all medications, supplements, and herbs you’re taking, for their potential impact on blood clotting. Your history, a physical exam, blood tests and imaging may all be used to confirm diagnosis. Depending on the location and severity, drugs to dissolve the clot (or keep it from growing larger) or surgery to remove it might be indicated. There are two types of blood thinning drugs you might be prescribed, anticoagulants (such as warfarin) or antiplatelets (such as aspirin). If you have had a stroke or a heart attack, you will also need a cholesterol medication called statin to reduce the chance of a future event.
Keep that blood moving! Maintaining an active, non-smoking lifestyle with regular exercise, healthy weight and diet and low blood pressure could go a long way in preventing risk factors. Try to break up long periods of sitting with breaks to walk around. If you have risk factors, talk with your doctor about habits and/or drugs that can reduce your risk.
About Dr. Jaber
Wissam Jaber, MD is a cardiologist at Emory University Hospital Midtown where he runs the pulmonary embolism treatment program. He has more than 7 years of experience in interventional cardiology, including treating patients with heart attack and blocked heart arteries.